R5 Greta: Into the Woods, part 3 of 3

Hans stopped eating long enough to smile.  He had a red berry ring around his mouth which made him look like a toddler. Greta got so mad at him, she felt like wringing his neck, but she also managed a smile for the old woman.

“My name is Aruna,” the woman said, hesitantly.

“I’m Greta,” she said.  “And my pig’s name is Hansel.”  She turned to her brother.  “Stop, Hans. For Heimdahl’s sake, stop eating the poor woman’s food.”

“It’s quite all right,” Aruna said.  “The old ones won’t be coming today, alas.  All my baking was for nothing, unless you enjoy it.  I would much rather it be eaten than thrown out.”

“The old ones?” Greta asked.

“Yes, Gretal, child.  But come now, eat what you like.  I am especially proud of my tarts.  Come, come.”

Tarts were her favorite.  Greta had not noticed any until the woman mentioned them.  She picked one up, carefully.  It reeked of magic.  “Thank you,” Greta said.  “Tell me about the old ones.”  She pretended to eat and the pretense appeared good enough for the moment.

“The old ones. Now, that is a long story.”  Aruna smiled a toothy smile.  “Come, let us go inside and I will make some tea and tell you all about it.”

“How did you come to live alone in the forest like this?” Greta asked, stalling their progress.

“Now, that is another long story,” Aruna said.  “It would be much better told inside where the sun is not so bright and hot. I have worked hard this morning and I would love to rest my weary feet.”

“Yes, work,” Greta said, not giving up.  “How did you manage a field of ripe grain this early in the spring?”

Aruna handed her a sweet pie and indicated that she should help herself.  “A gift of the gods for this poor, old woman,” she said. “No matter how much I cut in a day, by the next morning the field is full and ripe again.”

Greta happened to know the ancient gods were no longer available to make such gifts, and they had not been around for nearly a hundred and fifty years.  “Which god should be so generous, if I may ask?” Greta tried to sound pleasant and conversational.  Aruna frowned.

“Abraxas,” she said, drawing the “s” out in a true serpent-like manner.  He was not one of the northern gods, nor any of the gods that Greta knew, and yet the name sounded vaguely familiar.  Had she come across the name in the writings in Mother Hulda’s barn?  While she puzzled, she took a bite of the sweet pie without thinking.

“Good,” Aruna said.  “Now poor Hansel is getting very thirsty.  Isn’t that so?”

“Yeah I am.” Hans spoke with his mouth full.

“Come in. It is still early spring and gets dark early.”  Aruna said, and Greta almost believed her.  “You don’t want to get caught out doors at night with the wolf prowling about.”

“Dear, no,” Greta said and put down her pie.  Aruna struck a chord there that Greta could not deny.

The minute Greta stepped inside, she knew what was wrong but she did not seem to have enough power to do anything about it.  In her mind’s eye, she saw a dirt floored hovel with stones and stumps for furniture, and no great artifacts of any kind apart from the tremendous oven; but then she saw a quaint, wood-floored home with a nice table and chairs, flowers in a vase, a neatly made bed in the corner, a fireplace in place of the firebox, and above it, where the oven had been, two small beds in a little loft, just right for her and Hansel.

“Old ones?” Greta thought if she talked it might help break the spell, but that became a mistake.

“Quite right,” Aruna said.  Her voice sounded so kind and enchanting, it drew them in more deeply.  “A little conversation helps grow the appetite.” She began to reach into all sorts of cupboards, cabinets and pantries and she pulled out roasts that were steaming hot, fresh baked bread, still warm, every kind of cheese Greta could imagine, greens and fresh fruit that paid no attention to the season, and of course, every kind of sweet that might appear on anyone’s menu.  “My,” she said.  “We have quite an appetite for children.”  But Greta felt the woman referred to their imagination, not their eating habits.  She suspected that she saw one thing, Hans saw something else, and only the woman saw what was real.

“Old ones,” Greta said.  She hung on to that thought, and she would not give it up, even when Aruna looked at her crossly.  Aruna smiled again and poured Greta some tea in a porcelain cup, though for a moment it looked like dirty water in a chipped crockery bowl.

“Drink up dear Gretal child,” she said.  “You will like this tea.  It is a special blend from my own garden.”  That did not inspire Greta to drink.  Greta still resisted, and Aruna knew it.  Greta looked up with some insistence in her eyes.

“All right, dearie,” Aruna said, and she started to talk to take Greta’s mind off fighting the spell.  “The old ones were the first people in the land.  They lived here long before the yellow hairs came.”  Greta understood there were people in the area going back to the stone age, but there were certainly people around before her own Dacians. In truth, her people took the land themselves barely two hundred years before Trajan brought up his army.  Maybe three hundred years, but it remained recent history, just a blink in time.  She believed, though, that the earlier inhabitants had long since been driven away or assimilated with her own people.  She could not imagine a whole enclave of them living apart for so many years.

Aruna stroked Greta’s long, light blond hair.  She would have stroked Greta’s cheek if Greta had not pulled back, sharply.  Aruna let her hand drop and went back to speaking. “They live in the forest, dear,” she said, as if reading Greta’s mind.  She wove a twisted tale.  “I am a widow of the rebellion.  I married on the very day hostilities broke out.  My dearest love was killed before we could even share our wedding bed.  I wanted to die, too, but I did not have the courage to take my own life.  Instead, I ran into the forest in such tears and grief I thought the agony would never go away.  But here, I thought, in this haunted land, some demon or beast would kill me quickly and my misery would be at an end.

“In this place, my great god Abraxas found me.  He began to heal me in ways I never imagined.  And then he brought the old ones to find me, and they fed me, but kept a close watch on me to be sure I came to no harm.  I prayed to Abraxas every day.  He is the great god who shines light in the darkness and shows the darkness hidden in the light, and I grew stronger every day, until at last, I could go about without fear.  I could not go home, because everyone I knew had died.  And yet, I did not belong in this place, either.  The old ones left me here, half-way between their world and the outside world, and I have lived here to this day.”

Greta sipped her tea and thought what a sad and tragic story.  Hans shed a few tears.  This poor old grandmother had lived such a hard life, it would only be right and fair to show her some kindness.

************************

MONDAY

Don’t miss R5 Greta, the Fire and the Dark.  It may be time for the oven.

Happy Reading, while you can…

*

R5 Greta: Into the Woods, part 2 of 3

Greta stopped their progress around ten.  She needed to rest, eat, and try to get oriented.  “How come we’re not following the Sylvan River?” Hans asked.  “Everyone says, if anyone was foolish enough to go into the forest, that is the way they should go.  They say since the river enters the woods in the North and exits near Boarshag, that is as near as you are going to get to a road through the demon woods.”

“Think Hans,” Greta said.  “We are trying to get to Ravenshold in three days in order to arrive ahead of Darius, or at least to arrive about the same time.  Now, where does the river enter the woods?”

“East?” Hans shrugged, and Greta realized since he had never seen a map he had no real clue.

“It comes out of the northern hills and enters the forest twenty miles north of Ravenshold,” she said.  “Besides, we have no idea how many twists and turns the river might take within the woods. It bogs down in many places or it might run through a gorge that is impossible to climb and impossible to cross. Instead of a short cut, the river might take longer.  We don’t know.”

“Twenty miles?” Hans sought confirmation

“Yes.” Greta nodded.  “And no easy road to Ravenshold once we get out of the woods.”

Hans whistled.

“No, the only way to get there, and quickly, is to cut straight east through the trees.”

“I understand,” Hans agreed.

“Good,” Greta said.  “So, climb this tree.  Not too high, now.  A broken leg or even a sprained ankle would be the worst possible thing for us.  Just get high enough to check the sun’s position. If the sun is still in your eyes, your face will be looking east.  That is the way we want to go.

“Right.” Hans set down his bread and scooted up the tree like a monkey.  Despite her cries to be careful, he climbed right to the top and acted like a bit of a showoff, besides.

“Hey!”  He shouted down.  “It’s like a whole other world up here.”

“Oh, be careful,” she shouted up.

“Hey!  I see an open space, like a meadow.  We can get our direction from there.”

“Is it east?” Greta asked.

“Mostly,” he said, but she could tell he did not think about direction.  “I see a hill in the distance.  We are going to have to do some climbing, and, Hey!  I see smoke.”

“Fire?” That thought frightened Greta, terribly. Hans came down.

“No, like a house,” Hans said as he dropped the last few feet and Greta gasped lest he twist his ankle or something.  “Like chimney smoke and right beside it, it looked like a field of grain, ripe and ready to harvest.”

That did not sound right.  The winter harvest came long ago.  Any field should be turned and only the green shoots of spring should be sticking up.  “A house in the forest?”  The whole idea sounded unlikely.

“Come on, I’ll show you.”  Hans got ready to go.

“Here.”  She tossed him the last of the bread he had been gnawing, and he started right out, like he knew exactly where to go.  Greta felt obliged to follow him, though she did not like the idea at all.

In a short way, they came to the meadow and Greta confirmed they were headed in the right direction.  “Come on.” Hans urged her toward the house, or at least the chimney smoke, but Greta decided to dig in her heels.  She would not move until they made an agreement.

“It is on the way so we go by,” she said.  “But we don’t go in unless I say so.  And if there are people there, keep hidden and say nothing unless I say it is all right.”

“Come on,” Hans said.

“Agree,” Greta insisted.  “Or I will go way around it.”  She felt tempted to avoid the house, regardless.

“Okay, I agree,” Hans said.  “Now will you come on.  Maybe we can get lunch.”

“Grr.” Greta let out a little of her frustration, but followed, thinking that Hans was much too trusting a soul.

When they got to the edge of the clearing, Greta pulled Hans down behind a bush while she examined the house.  The poor house had only one room, she judged, with a small front deck, not unlike Mother Hulda’s front porch.  The chimney, by contrast, shot way up beyond the roof, high as the trees, and it bellowed black smoke as if the homeowner burned only moss and fir.  No wonder the smoke could be seen for miles, Greta pictured a moth being drawn to the flame.

Hans started to get up, but Greta pulled him back down and quieted him.

“But don’t you smell it?” Hans whispered.

“Yes,” Greta said, but presently, her eyes were fastened on the field of grain.  It looked ripe for harvest as Hans had reported, but that felt severely wrong.  Hans took advantage of her inattention.  He sprang up and ran for the house.  He picked up a honey cake cooling on the porch railing and popped it into his mouth.

“Hans!” Greta whispered as loud as she dared. She did not want to arouse anyone who might be inside.  The aroma of all the baked goods—berry pies, cakes, pastries and sweets—all cooling on the front porch smelled overwhelming, but it also smelled of enchantment. Greta had decided this was not the place to stop, but Hans merely smiled at her.  The stinker was not about to return from the porch, and he had no intention of keeping his promise.  He stuck his finger in a pie and licked it clean with great delight.  Greta would have to fetch him.

She got up slowly and looked both ways to be sure the coast was clear before she walked sternly toward Hans.  She had every intention of grabbing him by the ear and dragging him back to the woods should that prove necessary.  Unfortunately, at that very moment, an elderly woman stepped around the corner of the house and spied them both.  The woman’s eyes got big for a second in a very strange sort of way, but then she put her hand to her chest and spoke.

“Oh, my children. You startled me so.”

R5 Greta: Into the Woods, part 1 of 3

Greta got up before the sun, dressed as quietly as she could and put on her red cloak for the journey.  The days were getting warm, but the evenings and early mornings could still be chilly. She already had her new basket filled with enough food to sustain her for three days.  It felt minimal, but it would suffice.  She also had a flask of water.  She imagined she might find water along the way.  When she felt ready, she crawled out of the window to avoid the guards her father had posted by the front door.

Greta walked across country fields until she met the east road, far out of sight of her house. The grass made squishy sounds beneath her feet.  The road proved full of mud puddles.  The trees dripped and glistened in the first light.  It had rained well after midnight.  By the time she turned off to walk to Mother Hulda’s, where the road turned the other way, the sun broke out over the eastern hills.

Greta stopped in Mother Hulda’s barn long enough to nibble on a piece of bread.  She wanted to be sure she was not being followed. As she ate, her mind wandered to the task ahead.  She began to think of the haunted woods and the many stories that told about people who wandered in and were never heard from again.  She looked at the little Sylvan River in the distance.  It came out of the woods, narrow and clean water, and flowed to join the Tibiscus River north of Boarshag.  They said the Sylvan bogged down in the forest and formed into great swamps, home for all the unspeakable things.  She considered the god Sylvanus and the haunting power of the trees.  She remembered the Roman Century from the days of the last rebellion, said to be wandering still, looking for a way out.  She thought of the stories about demons and strange creatures, and suddenly she had to go before she lost her nerve.  She was not as immune to the children’s stories as she had supposed, and she decided Festuscato and Gerraint were fools to want a haunted forest of their own.The first thing Greta noticed was the forest floor seemed much dryer than the fields.  The twigs and leaves crunched beneath her feet and the sound echoed among the trees.  The forest also seemed much quieter than the meadows.  Greta got startled by the sound of a bird that broke out in morning song.  She got spooked by the rustle of leaves nearby and almost ran.  She decided to investigate under the false assumption that it could not be anything evil in the morning light.  She thought that proving to herself that it was nothing would help.  She paused when she saw the leaves move.  She held her breath.  The leaves appeared to be moving but nothing moved them and she felt no breeze.  A squirrel head popped up from beneath the leaf bed.  Greta breathed, and laughed, nervously.  It did not surprise her that the stories of ghosts and demon spirits were rampant among the people.

Greta moved on. Again, she heard the rustle of leaves and twigs behind her, but this time she ignored it.  Even after she had put some distance between herself and the squirrel, she still thought nothing of it.  It is just mice or birds, she told herself, or perhaps a deer with a spring born faun.  Yet she found herself listening more closely, because it did sound a bit like the regular stomping of feet.  She stopped to be sure.  The sound stopped.  She started, and the sound started again.  She decided this time she did not want to look, so she ran, and the sound ran after her.

Greta began to weave in and out of the trees, hoping her pursuer would lose sight of her long enough for her to duck behind some cover.  She found a boulder and hit the dirt.  Only the sound of her hard breathing could not be stopped.

“Greta.” She heard her name.  “Greta.”  Hans! She got up and looked to be sure. He stood ten paces away.  Greta smiled and walked up to him.  He smiled sheepishly in return.  She yelled and hit him several times, waking whatever might still be asleep in the forest.

“You creep! How dare you follow me like that and scare me half to death.”  Like a good brother, he took his pounding gracefully.

“I didn’t think you would let me come,” he said.  “I heard what you told Papa about going through the forest and I thought you might need my help.”  He pointed to his makeshift backpack.  “Look. I have a blanket and food, and I brought the knife that Darius gave me.”

“But it is dangerous here.  Nobody goes into the forest for good reason.  It is dangerous,” Greta insisted.

“Greta.” Hans lowered his voice to a whisper. “If it gets that bad, won’t the Nameless help us out?”

“I doubt it,” Greta said at full volume.  “He says what they all say.  This is my life, my turn.  I have to live or die on my own and no one can interfere with that.”

“But I thought.” Hans paused to think.  “Uh!”  He wanted to protest, but Greta started to walk and he had to follow.  Finally, Hans framed his thought.  “What good is it having a god on your side if he won’t do anything to help you?”

“He is not a genie in a bottle granting wishes,” she responded, and since Hans had no idea what a genie was, he just fell silent.

The forest turned out to not be as flat and even as Greta supposed.  They went down into gullies, climbed ridges, clambered over and around boulders, skirted briar patches and avoided the marshy, fern strewn places altogether.  With all that, it did not take long before Greta became convinced that she had lost the proper direction.  Normal direction was an easy matter since the sun rose in the east and set in the west. But among the trees, she could not really see the sun or tell which way it headed much after nine o’clock.  Now she understood the stories of people lost and wandering forever, searching for a way out.

 

 

 

R5 Greta: Desperation, part 3 of 3

Hans understood well enough despite the trouble Mishka had translating to Dacian for Hans and Greek for the physician.  Some of it just came out in Russian, but it hardly mattered.  Hans went back to work and Mishka picked up her bag and felt pleased to see the physician did not bolt.  Instead, he looked over her shoulder as she first laid a boiled cloth on the table, and then laid out her instruments.

“More light,” she called out, and Hans went to the window.  “No.  Candles.” The smoke would be bad, but who knew what might be blowing in the air.  The conditions of Mama’s kitchen were not exactly sterile.

Mishka laid out the scalpel, tweezers, clamps and all in order.  These were made by her little ones in ancient days.  From the same crowd that made Thor’s Hammer, she used Greta’s phrase.  The medicine always arrived fresh, but just to be sure she checked the green dot on the bottom of the vial of penicillin.

“Remarkable craftsmanship.”  The Roman spoke over her shoulder.  Mishka quickly pulled out two masks, one for herself and one for the Roman and his beard. She had to make him wear it.  Once washed and gloved, she turned them to the patient.

Flaminius became fascinated the instant she cut into the wound.  After that, his attention never wavered.  He dutifully made sponges out of the boiled cloth and they dug and sponged, clamped, looked, and dug a little deeper.  At one point, Papa moaned and tried to turn over. Mishka had to call Hans to hold him down.  They were nearly at the bone.

“You know,” Mishka spoke, though in what language, she could not be sure.  “It is always a risk to history to intervene like this. This whole surgery is something out of time, almost as bad as the guns.  But history says there should be peace between Dacia and Rome, and Greta’s Papa is too important a chess piece to lose at this stage.  Eh, Hans?”

Hans looked up and nodded, but said nothing.  Mishka went on.  “As for Marcus.”  She clicked her tongue.  “I suppose I shall have to keep him alive somehow, too, if he is ever to be emperor.  At least he has no Rasputin dog chasing his heels, eh, Hans?”

Hans did not look that time.  They came to the bone.  “And here it is.”  Mishka said, cleanly extracting the sliver of the sword with her tweezers.  After that, came the long, slow process of sewing him up. She had self-dissolving thread, thank goodness.

When they were nearly done sewing, Mishka sent Hans to put the kettle on the fire.  “A special cure?”  Flaminius asked.

“No,” Mishka answered.  “In want of vodka and a good cigar. I will settle for some tea.”

“I must say, what I have just witnessed is the most remarkable bit of medical work I have ever seen.  The only thing I don’t understand is why I have to wear this uncomfortable mask.”

Mishka reached for her penicillin and hypodermic as she answered.  “Because I do not want anything in the leg except leg.  No breath, spit, hair, and certainly no eggs you had for breakfast or greasy ribs from last night’s supper, both of which are still hiding around your chin.”

“Oh, I see,” Flaminius said, and she could tell he was learning.  She hoped he was not learning too much.

Mishka tapped the vial of penicillin and looked concerned.  These people had no experience with antibiotics.  She wanted enough to shock the healing process, but too much might be a disaster.  “We do live by faith,” she reminded herself, and prepared the needle for the injection. At that moment, Papa’s hand flew up and caught her arm.

“Where’s my Greta?” he demanded.  Mishka turned away, and then vanished from that time and place.  Greta came home to find a hypodermic in one hand, and her other hand caught in her father’s crushing grasp.

“I’m right here, Papa,” she said and turned to face him.  She saw him relax a little, but she called Hans over to get between them. Then she had to inject the needle herself, and Papa felt it.  Fortunately, it was over quickly and the hypodermic vanished as the bag and instruments had already vanished with the good Doctor.  “Everything is done.  You are going to be all right.”  And she motioned the physician to hold Papa up so he could take his pain medication. Then she applied the antiseptic salve and bandaged him tight, including the splint which would keep his leg immobile. She knew he would not keep the splint on for long, but she felt every hour would be a plus.  Last of all, Greta hugged him and cried a little.  He patted her back, but got groggy as the pain medicine had its’ effect.  Then, as Papa fell back to sleep, she called the physician and Hans to her side.

“Flaminius Vinas,” she said.  “Not a word about Doctor Mishka to anyone.  Not now, not ever.  Hans is the only other person who knows and that is how it must remain.”  She shot Hans a sharp look, but somehow, she knew she could trust him.  Flaminius might be another matter, but he put her mind at ease.

“Never fear,” he said.  “Hippocrates taught us all about confidentiality.”

Greta relaxed. “And by the way, she says I will have to have that cup of tea with you, if you wish.”

The physician laughed.  He looked genuinely pleased to have been part of it all, and especially pleased at being able to scratch his beard once again.  Greta opened the window and extinguished all the candles while she sent Hans to fetch Mama.  Then, when all three were present and paying attention, Greta explained the need for clean bandages and the splint to keep the leg straight until the bone could properly heal.  She had to finish fixing her makeshift penicillin compound herself.  It would not be very strong and might upset his stomach, but it should suffice.  He had to drink a measured dose every morning for the next ten days.  They must not skip a day, and he must finish it all—all ten doses.  Mama alone would forget one morning.  Hans could hardly be counted on, but the physician, she felt, would keep the faith and she decided this Flaminius might not be such a bad fellow after all, Roman though he was.

Greta slept that night with her eyes and ears open.  She got up twice to give Papa his pain medication.  The physician knew a very similar formula and promised to use it sparingly lest he become addicted to the medicine.  She got up a third time to help Flaminius change Papa’s bandages. The stitching had been excellent, but the antiseptic dried and made the bandages crusty.  Originally, Greta had thought to leave at first light, but in the morning, she felt much too tired to contemplate such a journey.  Besides, it started pouring rain.

Afternoon came before she had a chance to speak with Papa, alone.  She concluded that the only right thing to do was tell him her intentions.  That way, if she did not survive, they would have some idea of what happened to her.

“Papa,” she said. “I know all about the weapons of Trajan, the guns.”

“What?” Papa looked hard at her, but quickly softened.  “I must always remember, though my little girl, you are indeed the Woman of the Ways. You did for me and my leg what a whole host of Roman physicians with all their superior knowledge were powerless to do.” Greta turned a little red since that was not strictly true.  “Lord Marcus says they will be a great help to us in defending our land and homes, if only we can get them out of the hands of the rebels.”

“No, Papa,” Greta said.  “Marcus only wants his Romans equipped with those weapons.”

“And us,” Papa insisted.  “When we guard our border, we also guard Rome’s border.  They will include us.”

“But it doesn’t matter,” Greta said.  “No one should have those weapons.”

“And why not?” Papa asked with serious doubts as to her sanity on the matter.

“Because they are stolen from the future.  Because they don’t belong here.  Because the gods want them rounded up and destroyed.”  The gods seemed the best way she could explain it, and that caused her Papa to pause.

“Are you sure about this?”  Greta nodded without hesitation.  Papa leaned back and sighed.  “You know,” he said.  “I have only heard of these weapons, but what I have heard, I can hardly believe.”

“I must go,” Greta said, broaching the real subject.

“Why you?” he asked.

“It’s my job,” she answered, and Papa knew that well enough not to argue the point.

“Anyway, it’s too late,” he said, sure that he had her.  “The soldiers are too far ahead of you.  You might as well wait until Marcus brings them back and do what you must do, here.”  Papa relaxed. He thought that ended the discussion.

“I must cross the forest to Ravenshold,” Greta said, quietly.

“What?” Papa exploded.  “Never.  You must not even think of that.  You cannot go.  I forbid it.” Greta heard the fear in his voice as well as his concern for her.

“Three days journey at most and I can be in Ravenshold two days ahead of Marcus,” she said.

“Absolutely not. Do you hear me?  I forbid you to go.”

“Papa,” she said. “I am only telling you in case I don’t survive, so you will know what happened to me.”  But Papa already stopped listening.

“I’ll hear no more of this foolish talk.”  Papa folded his arms and closed his eyes.  Greta gave him a kiss and stepped outside to stand in the rain.

************************

MONDAY

R5 Greta: Into the Woods… Greta begins to understand what being the Kairos is all about, even as things get strange.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Greta: Desperation, part 2 of 3

The physician who came with Papa showed contempt from the beginning, but his contempt got abated a little as Greta pointed out his work and named everything he did in both Latin and Greek.  In truth, she spent all that while examining the wound.

Papa stayed respectfully quiet and only said “Ouch,” in the appropriate places. Meanwhile, Hans came in with arms full of moldy bread, and Vanesca returned at about the same time with the water. Greta set them immediately to preparing the penicillin which would be taken orally, though they hardly knew what they were doing, or why.

Papa’s leg had not yet become infected, but it seemed rapidly headed in that direction. She examined Papa’s hands.  When the assassin struck, he missed the target, struck only Papa’s leg; but the sword went to the bone and even cut a hairline fracture.  As Papa cried out, he grabbed the sword and held on to the blade so the assassin could not draw it out and strike a second blow.  Papa demonstrated and explained.  “Then Marcus tackled the man and had him tortured.  That was how we found out about Kunther’s rebellion,” he said, and Greta knew that was also how they found out about the guns.

Papa’s hands did not look to be cut too badly.  They were already healing.  But not every soldier was scrupulous about keeping his weapon clean.  Some blades even developed a keen edge of rust. Soldiers routinely died, not from the wound, but from the infection that developed.  Greta well understood why the Roman physicians recommended removal of the leg.  His chances for survival were not good if he lost the limb, but if his leg turned green, his chances became zero.

Greta finally stood up.  Everyone waited.  “You missed a sliver,” she told the physician.  “Did the sword break?”

“No.” Darius spoke up.  “But it had notches in several places, like a sword that had been in hard battle.  I suppose a piece may have broken off against the bone, isn’t that possible, physician?”

“I suppose it is possible.”  The physician admitted.  “But we can do nothing about that now, certainly not with the wound already closing. The leg is ready to green, and there is nothing we can do about that either, except remove the leg and burn it off and hope for the best.”

“No,” Greta insisted.  “We get out the sliver and then treat the leg against infection.”  She sounded so sure.  “Papa.  You will have to follow my directions for the next twenty-one days.  If you do, you will get well.”  She sounded very stern and he raised his eyebrows.

“I mean it.” Greta spoke with everything she had. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mother.” Papa nodded.

“Good,” Greta said.  “Physician and Hans stay.  Everyone else out.”  Vanesca and Darius looked up.  “Sorry,” Greta said.  “This is necessary and important.”

They agreed, and as they left, Greta made her Papa drink the sleeping potion.  Then she got a bowl of fresh water and got the physician to start cleaning the wound while she stepped outside.  Marcus paced there, with about twenty men waiting as well as they could.  Gaius mounted and Darius followed.

“You brought up the entire cavalry troop?” Greta asked.

Darius and Gaius looked at each other.  Romans did not easily share such information, but Marcus did not hesitate.  “Three hundred,” he said.  “And about an equal number of auxiliaries and of your own people.”

“Vanesca!”  Greta shouted before Vanesca got out of earshot. “Go fetch Yanda’s father and tell him I need him here, on horseback, and dressed for war, immediately.”

Vanesca waved.

“Immediately!” Greta repeated herself to be sure.

“The whole legion is following?” she asked Marcus.

“Pretty much,” he admitted.  “The legion in Apulum is spread all over the countryside, but VII Claudia is mostly intact and coming up from Vimiacium on the Danube.”

“Take Yanda’s father with you,” she said.  “His name is Hersecles.  He is too old for much of a fight, but he has the respect of all who know him, and that is a lot of people.  What is more, his whole heart is for peace with Rome and against rebellion.  He can replace Eldegard if Eldegard should prove false.  I am not saying he will turn false, mind you.”  Marcus nodded, and Greta felt terrible suggesting it because Eldegard was Drakka’s father.  “I know Papa picked him,” she went on.  “But he was on the fence.  Part of the reason for Papa’s pick was to bring him over to the side of peace.”  She had nothing more to say, and after that, they waited, and waited until Marcus could barely contain his impatience.

“If I had a copper for every time I had to wait,” Gaius quipped.  “Do you know how rich I would be?”  Marcus nodded, but it did not help.

They waited, and the Roman physician came out to report.  “The wound is clean, your father is asleep, and the boy is bored.”  He related things in his own order of importance.

“Fine,” Greta said, a bit sharply.  She felt uncomfortable, not because of the wait, but because Darius kept staring at her. Finally, she could stand it no longer. “What?”  She shot the word at him, and it distracted Marcus for the moment.

“Nothing.” Darius sat upright.  “Did I say something?”  He asked Gaius, not expecting an answer.

“Damn it!” Greta felt unhappy with herself. She wanted to hate herself, but she had to say it.  “Damn it!” She repeated.  “Just don’t get yourself killed, all right?  It wouldn’t be much of a wedding without you. Okay?  I said it.”  Greta felt herself flush red from anger and several other conflicting emotions.

“Bravo!” Marcus shouted.  Then Hersecles chose that moment to show up so she did not get a response from Darius, if he had one.

Greta made the introductions and gave Hersecles her instructions before they raced off to catch the troop which was already well ahead of them.

“He doesn’t look like much of a warrior,” the physician noted.

“Better than I thought,” Greta responded, and she brought the physician back inside the house.

Hans sat by the bed watching Papa snore, but the minute they came in he asked the question which had been pressing on his mind.  “Will my Nameless be able to help?”  To his disappointment, Greta shook her head, and then explained.

“This is not a spiritual matter.  It is strictly a matter of flesh and blood.”  Greta saw that the wound looked tolerably clean so she said, “Thank you” to the physician.

“But can you do this alone?” Hans pressed.

“No,” she admitted.  “But Doctor Mishka can.  She is a trained battlefield surgeon and she operated on far worse after Tannenberg, and even here in Dacia, though they did not call it Dacia in 1915.”

“Who is Mishka?” Hans asked, responding on the one thought he grasped from all that she said. Greta could see the same question forming in the physician’s mind.

“Take my hands,” Greta said.  “It is sort of a tradition.”  And she grasped Han’s hand and held the physician’s hand firmly.  She closed her eyes and reached out, not with her mind or heart, but with her spirit, and not in space, but sliced through time, even to the twentieth century.  All at once, Greta no longer stood there.  The Doctor stood in her place and felt much too snug in Greta’s dress.  The Roman nearly ran, but Mishka put her arm out and Hans restrained him.

“My surgical garb.”  Mishka called, and like the armor, it replaced Greta’s dress.  “Better,” Mishka took a deep breath.  “My black bag.”  She called again and the bag appeared in her hand, and she felt ready.

“Doctor Nadia Illiana Kolchenkov.”  Mishka introduced herself to the Roman and shook his bewildered hand.  “Colonel, late of the Army of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”  That was 1945, not 1915.  This seemed an older Mishka than Greta had envisioned.

“Flaminius Vinas,” the Roman said, meekly.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said.  “Now you must assist.”  She winked at Hans who smiled broadly.  In this one he could see at least a little of his sister.  He could never pinpoint a particular feature.  Even the hair and eye colors were different.  But his sister was in there all the same.  “We make a fine troika,” Mishka said.  “But my brother must finish his potion as instructed, yes?”

R5 Greta: Desperation, part 1 of 3

Greta breathed. She was all bluff and bravado, without substance in any perceived threat.  She let the armor and weapons return from wherever they came and stood once again in her plain dress and red cloak.  She turned to the astounded elders.

“There will be no rebellion,” she said flatly.  “Go home and make peace.”  Greta had to sit in the chair recently vacated by Lady Brunhild.  She felt afraid to get her cooties, but she had to sit down.  The elders filed out, slowly, acknowledging her as “Little Mother,” and “Mother Greta.” Yanda’s father paused to kiss her cheek. He thought perhaps he might provide everything asked for Yanda’s wedding after all.  Greta smiled.  She knew he was one who would have voted for peace no matter how persuasive the witch might have been.  When they were gone, Greta saw the Priest still there on his knees.

“Vasen?” Greta called him by name.

“Great Mother,” he called her.

Greta shook her head and stood to help him to his feet.  “Don’t make more out of what just happened than what you saw.”

“Nothing fake about that,” he insisted.

“No, not fake. But more show than substance.” She took his arm as the raven chose that moment to change perches, flying from one beam to another.  “Timing is everything,” she told him without further explanation.

“But I am so ashamed,” he suddenly confessed.  “I have spent years serving Lady Brunhild out of fear instead of my duty to serve the gods of heaven.”

“Quite all right,” Greta said, as they reached the door.  “Soon enough, strange men will come to us clothed with real power and authority from on high, and they will tell us of the God who was raised on the third day.  Then you and I will simply fade into history, but all will be well,” she assured him. “It is how it should be.  It is how it must happen.”

He did not really understand, but he nodded all the same and took his leave.  Greta limped home thinking about the guns. Some things Lady Brunhild had said suggested that she knew where they were, and that meant Kunther knew where they were, and that would be very bad, indeed.  She imagined a shoot-out on the streets of Laredo.  This time she had the faster gun and a bit more firepower, but that did not mean there would not be a next time.

###

Despite losing the first skirmish, and her loss in battle in front of the elders, Lady Brunhild did not leave town right away.  Greta fretted about what the woman might be scheming.  In the morning, Greta made the long trip to Mother Hulda’s old house, despite the pain in her leg.  The house was utterly gone, of course, but the weatherproofed barn still stood. Nameless had seen to that.  He had sanitized the books and one-of-a-kind items, and transported them to the barn before the burning.  Greta thought she could find something to combat Brunhild more directly.  She found a lot of interesting things, and spent considerable time going over scrolls and parchments penned in Greek and Latin; but the search proved fruitless.  Without knowing what Brunhild might be planning, Greta concluded that the potions she had made earlier were about the best she could do.

Greta arrived home before dark.  She decided that someday soon she would have to pack everything and move it to safer quarters, but for the moment, Mother Hulda’s barn seemed about the safest place. She had nowhere else to keep such precious things.

Another fitful night of sleep followed, partly because her leg seriously began to throb. She could not imagine how she hurt it. She got up around midnight and stepped out into the night air, walking to where she could just make out the campfires of Lady Brunhild’s camp.  The moon had come up, but it would not be her full Artemis moon for perhaps another week. She sat to look at the stars, and rubbed her leg.

She heard the sound of someone riding hard.  A rider came up from the South, and by the sound of the horse, Greta guessed it had been a long, swift ride.  The horse jerked to a stop in Lady Brunhild’s camp.  From her vantage, Greta saw the dark silhouette of the horse against the distant campfire.  It appeared to be steaming.  She waited. Not ten minutes later she heard shouting and a great deal of commotion.  Shortly after that, she saw another rider race out of camp on a fresh horse, headed North.  Greta did not have to stay up to know that Lady Brunhild and her troop would be gone before daylight.  She had no doubt, whatever Brunhild’s designs on the river land, they had to be put on hold. Greta felt sure the troop would be racing back to Ravenshold and she wondered why.  She sighed.  She felt tired, and her leg, if not better, presently felt numb.  She knew she would hear all about it, now.  She also felt sure she would never again be left out of any meetings. She went to bed.

By the time she got up with the sun, sure enough, Lady Brunhild had long gone.  Greta let it go for the time being.  She had plenty of duties to attend, some things she had neglected over the past few days.  She kept herself busy all day, and listened, but it seemed a mystery to everyone why the lady left so suddenly.  A few confirmed that they indeed headed north, back to Ravenshold, but no one knew why.

The following morning, Greta got her answer.  This time, the sound of many horses came up from the South.  Greta waited by the front door in anticipation.  The Lords Marcus, Darius and Sergeant Gaius were the first to arrive.  They dismounted without a word of what might be following.  Darius came over and put his hands on Greta’s shoulders.  He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss like a husband might kiss a wife, and she kissed him back without thinking about it.

She kissed him back?  But it was not so bad.  His touch was not so bad either, but that was not the point.  He was not Drakka.  Darius was nice, but not what she wanted.  Greta stopped cold and looked up.  Darius stood, smiling.  Marcus grinned from ear to ear.  Greta stepped back and slapped Darius, but not too hard.  Marcus started to laugh so she stepped over and stomped on his foot. “Oaf,” she called him.  She did not care if he would be emperor one day.  She grabbed Gaius by the arm and walked him away from the laughing fools.  Gaius had been trying to get her attention.  She noticed.

“We found the guns,” Gaius whispered quickly.  “Outside Ravenshold, and Kunther has them.  Marcus wants them for Rome so he can make more.”

“Why weren’t they used in the last rebellion?”  Greta wondered out loud.

“Your high chief at the time hated them.  He said the people would rise or fall on their own strength, not magic weapons. He buried them, but Kunther has dug them up and vowed to see Rome itself engulfed in flames.”

“Not good,” Greta mumbled.  “Very not good.”

By then Mama had come out and Darius and Marcus quickly calmed down.  They had something serious to tell.  “Greta.”  Darius said, and took her again by the shoulders.  She wanted to pull away, but she did not want to.  “It’s your father.”

“What?” Mama breathed loudly.

“He’s all right, alive,” Darius said, quickly.  “Thanks to the Lord Marcus who tackled the assassin.  But his leg is badly cut.  The physicians worked on him, but they believe the leg will have to come off. Your father, however, insisted that the Woman of the Ways examine his leg before they did any cutting.”

“We carried him three days.”  Gaius said and shook his head, as if to say the leg looked hopeless.  Greta did not hesitate.  She became like a whirlwind.  She grabbed Gaius and Darius by the hands and started toward the house. Hans and Beliona came running up even as they arrived at the door.  Hans hoped to tell the news of the soldiers and looked a little disappointed to see that they already knew.  Greta paused and did not let go of her captives.

“Hans.”  Her voice commanded.  “You and your friends need to gather as much moldy bread as you can find.  Search the dumps out behind people’s houses.  The more the better.”  She said, knowing that most of it would be useless.  Hans looked curiously at Darius who nodded.  “Do it!” Greta commanded.

“Right. Come on.”  He tapped Beliona on the arm and they ran off while Greta dragged her captives into the house.

She made them move Papa’s bed to the center of the main room near the kitchen fire.  They pushed the table back against the wall and Greta started Darius tearing linen sheets into bandages.  She had Gaius break a chair into clean pieces for a splint.

“His right leg.” Greta said, suddenly.  Hers started feeling better.  Darius and Gaius looked at each other, shrugged and continued working.

Vanesca chose that moment to show up.  “Good.” Greta said, handed her the empty water jug, and practically closed the door in her face.  Greta went back to stoking the fire.  She had emptied the jug into the cauldron which would also get the bandage cloths once the water started to boil.  Then she checked the potions she had made earlier in the week, particularly the sleep potion, the antiseptic balm and the pain killer. They were still good and would be for some time.  She felt relieved and happy to have them in advance.

Marcus came in with Mama.  Mama cried, but Greta did not have time for her.  “Mama.”  She spoke rather sternly.  “Go to Hermosas’ house and talk about the wedding.  I’ll let you know when there is word.”  Greta caught her mouth and looked at Darius who looked up and smiled. Greta frowned to think she would have to get used to that smirk.  She made a face at him and turned her back on him since Marcus started speaking.

“It would be my honor to escort your mother,” he said, having assessed the situation perfectly. He really was very good with her, and since he apparently also saved Papa’s life, Greta felt obliged.

“I owe you one,” she said hastily.  And they left, but not quite soon enough.  Papa arrived in a carrier.  She heard his voice repeating, “I’m all right.  I’m all right,” but Mama would have kept him in the yard and cried over him all day if Greta had not intervened.  “Get him in here,” she shouted.  “And get her out of here.”  People jumped and Darius got stupid.  He stuck his head out over her shoulder.

“That’s my wife to be,” he said, proudly.  Greta refrained from elbowing him in the solar plexus.

R5 Greta: Betrayal, part 3 of 3

Jodel and Yanda talked wedding and had the first of what would one day be called counseling sessions.  Then Greta went to see Jodel’s father.  He had figured it out, as anyone with any insight at all could, and he happily accompanied Greta back to town to see Yanda’s father.  Yanda’s father, however, became a different matter.  He seemed fine with the wedding, but Greta thought his haggling about the dowry would drive her crazy.  In the end, they had to leave some things to be decided later. All seemed well, until he surprised her as she prepared to leave.

“I assume you will be at the meeting tomorrow.”

“Meeting?” Greta asked.  She knew at once, but she needed to hear it out loud.

“The elder’s meeting,” Yanda’s father said.  “Lady Brunhild says she has been sent by her son to speak for her son on important matters.”

Greta turned red with anger.  Even her freckles could not hide the emotion, but she spoke in a very soft and controlled tone of voice.  “There will be no rebellion,” she said.  She knew exactly what Lady Brunhild would be promoting.

“Do you really think that is what it is?” Jodel’s father asked.

Yanda’s father spoke.  “Some say it is so we can hear Kunther’s views on the land distribution.  Some say it is so he can begin building our force to defend the border.”

Greta stood up and the men stood with her.  “At high noon?” she asked on a whim.  Nameless might not like clichés, but there was a reason such things became clichés in the first place.

“Yes,” Yanda’s father confirmed.  “I thought you knew.”

Greta’s mind had been too busy dealing with poison and the aftermath.  She should have known.  She should have surmised.  “Rebellion will simply get us slaughtered with nothing gained,” she said.

The two men looked at each other.  They were elder elders who remembered the last rebellion.  Clearly, they agreed with her.

“There will be no rebellion,” Greta said through gritted teeth.  She left, but the joy of the day had all gone.  By bedtime she felt beaten back down to reality.  Even worse, her right leg throbbed, and she could not imagine what she might have done to strain it.

She slept fitfully, woke early and tried hard to think things through.  Her leg still hurt, so she had to limp her way outside. She believed that on her own she was no match for the witch, and clearly the word “witch” described Lady Brunhild. Perhaps she gave more credit than due, but the woman seemed a first-class witch and Greta decided not to underestimate her.  Nameless would not help her.  He was not authorized, and neither, apparently, were Salacia or Danna.  She sought out the others.  Bodanagus felt distant.  Ali, the life she lived right before her own, felt unsearchable.  Even Festuscato and Gerraint with whom she began to feel very close, seemed aloof.  Only one thing came through to her with crystal clarity, and it seemed to come from the Storyteller, the Princess, Diogenes and Doctor Mishka speaking with one voice in her mind.  This was Greta’s life.  There might be times when an intervention through time became warranted, but mostly Greta had to make her own way in her own life, and, as Gerraint underlined, fight her own battles.  Too bad, because Greta felt certain that on her own, she would lose.  She asked the Most-High God in Heaven to watch over her. She couldn’t die yet.  There were still guns somewhere that she had to locate and dismantle.

Greta spent the better part of the morning stinking up the kitchen.  She made a sleep potion, a healing balm with some antiseptic qualities, a strong inhibitor which could cloud the mind for a time, a hemp based uninhibitor, which could act something like a truth serum, and some pain killer.  She had no idea what she might need, if anything.  Mama’s only comment was she now understood why Mother Hulda built her house so far away from the village.  Greta smiled, briefly, but it hardly seemed a joking matter.  The time for the meeting had arrived.

Greta had her red cloak on and pulled her hood up to hide her face and hair.  She did her best to blend in with the men, who entered the council room, and she sat in the back where she hoped she would not be noticed. Lady Brunhild had not arrived, yet. No surprise.  Greta imagined the woman planned some grand entrance after everyone else got there.

Yanda’s father came up and sat beside Greta on one side.  Jodel’s father sat on the other side.  They must have talked.  The men who visited her home the other morning sat in front of them.  It felt like an honor guard and clearly some protection to be sure she did not get hurt.  She felt grateful.

Sure enough, when the small talk had been going on for a time, Lady Brunhild, the priest, and some of the lady’s escort came in loudly, drawing everyone’s attention. The priest helped the lady into the seat that faced the collected elders.  The young men were dressed for war.  The priest immediately said an invocation to begin the meeting.  He called on Zalmoxis, the Alfader, the god Sabazios of the horse, and the goddess Bendi of the Hunt.  He praised Sylvanus, Lord of the ancient forest, and bowed to all the Lords of Olympus.  Last, he called on the Nameless One whose right hand is the fist of battle and whose left hand is the open palm of peace.  He asked for peace in the deliberations, but hinted strongly that they were going to talk about the fist of war.  Greta smiled broadly at the description of Nameless, no doubt prompted through time.  Shut-up, she told herself.  She tried to focus.

Greta stood before Lady Brunhild could speak.  “There will be no rebellion,” she said in the hush.  “Last time the Romans showed mercy.  They will not show mercy again.”

“Silence!” Lady Brunhild’s voice shot out and many of the men were startled by the rudeness of her interruption.  “Child, you have no business here.  You may speak again only when I give you permission.”

Greta sat down. She said what she needed to say so it no longer mattered that she could not speak.  It felt as if her vocal chords were frozen.  She felt a constriction around her throat that made her breathing shallow.  She felt powerless to do anything about it, but she told herself it did not matter. The meeting began.

Lady Brunhild, supposedly speaking for Kunther, was persuasive.  Greta wondered how much came in the words and how much was magic. The people in the North all of the way up to Prolissum followed the lead of Ravenshold, but in the South, people looked to Boarshag.  Ravenshold seemed too far away, on the other side of the merciless forest.  Greta knew if Lady Brunhild could turn the men of Boarshag to follow Kunther in rebellion, soon enough the whole southland would be in flames.

They neared a vote, and it began to look as if Lady Brunhild might have her way.  The vote would be close.  Greta had to do something, but she began to panic and thus far she had not done well in panic situations.  One of the elders got up and opened a window.  It brought daylight streaming into what Greta only then realized was a dank and dark world.  The evil seek the darkness believing their deeds will not be found out, she thought. The righteous rise to the light. Greta stood.

The elders made way as she walked slowly to the front.  The pain in her thigh would not let her move faster.  When she got to the front and had everyone’s attention, she did the one thing she knew she could do whether she stood out in an open field or under a witch’s spell in a stuffy room in Boarshag.  She called out for the armor of the Nameless god.  It was her armor.  It was her lifetime.  Immediately, the constriction on her voice broke as her dress and red cloak were replaced by the chain mail of Hephaestus, the black and white cape of Athena, the helmet of Amon and the boots of her little ones, the little spirits of the earth, from the same crowd that made Thor’s Hammer, she thought, and that thought made her smile.  Unfortunately, the sword Salvation, which rested on her back, would be much too heavy for her to handle.  Besides, she had no experience with such weapons.  The long knife that rested across the small of her back, however, was another matter, being thinner, not as long as a Roman short sword, but longer than most knives.  “Defender!”  She put her hand out and called to the knife and instantly, the knife jumped perfectly into her hand.  This, too, had been a gift of the gods, and compared to the ancient gods, all the magic the witch could muster became like a drop of water to the ocean.

A collective gasp came from the men, and many hastily mumbled prayers, including several to the Nameless god which made Greta smile.  It appeared very showy, to call to her long knife, but it seemed like the only way she could be sure not to accidentally cut herself, and a good show was what she was presently after.  No one needed know that inside all of that glory, there stood the same little girl of small magic who felt no match for the witch.

Lady Brunhild shrieked at the change.  She leaned away from Greta when Greta turned and pointed Defender at her face like the accusing finger of fate.  “You came South to steal the best land before anyone else had a chance.”  Greta accused the Lady.  “Go and steal it if you can but leave Boarshag alone.”  Command came from Greta’s voice.  She felt armor inspired.

“No, no.” Lady Brunhild lied, and the lie became obvious to more people than just Greta.  Despite everything, the witch drew herself up as well as she could, and just started coming back to her wits, when a raven fluttered into the room.  Not one of the two greater spirits that used to serve Odin in Aesgard, to be sure.  As far as Greta knew, they passed over to the other side with their master in the time of dissolution.  Yet it was a raven all the same, so it had to be related in a sense.  It seemed drawn to Greta’s armor where the scent of the gods still lingered.  Greta put out her left arm, thinking fast, and the bird landed heavily on her wrist shield.

“Tell the Alfadur that all is well here,” she said.  “I think I can handle one little witch and her mindless escort.”  She pushed her wrist toward the window and the raven returned to flight with a “Caw.”  Instead of flying out of the window, though, it headed for the rafters.  “Yes.”  Greta said as if speaking to the bird.  “You can stay and watch.”

That became too much for the witch.  When Greta turned again to face her and point Defender at her, she shrieked again.  When Greta commanded, “Go!”  The witch hiked up her dress and fled, her escort trailing behind.

************************

MONDAY

R5 Greta: Desperation.  Greta may have won the first skirmish, but the war is not over.  The witch has other tricks up her sleeve, like assassination.  Don’t miss the coming week, and…

*

R5 Greta: Betrayal, part 2 of 3

Greta woke up around three in the morning.  Hans started groaning in his sleep.  She went to check on him and found him sweating, his heart beating much too fast. She thought of the stew.  It had been meant for her.  Lady Brunhild must have added poison to the recipe, and Greta knew she did not have enough time to find a cure.  She almost started to cry, but Nameless came to her mind.  He said he did not feel it was time for Hans to die, and maybe he could do something.

“Could you?” Greta whispered out loud.  Then she learned how to consciously trade places in time.  She went away and Nameless came to sit in her place beside Hans.  He came dressed in his armor again.  He certainly would not have fit into Greta’s nightshirt.

“It is all a matter of authority,” he whispered, knowing Greta would hear and remember. “Ares, or as the Romans say, Mars was authorized for war.  Aphrodite, which is Venus was authorized for love.  A god can do almost anything, but they could no more intervene in each other’s sphere than the sun could come up at night.  Of course, sometimes the authority is not obvious.  Even the gods of old had to walk by faith at times, but in this case, I just don’t feel it is Han’s time to die.”  As he spoke, he easily drew all of the poison to Han’s pinky, and then out altogether.  He kept it in a little blue bubble and let it float by his shoulder.  He normalized Han’s heart and breathing and even fixed a couple of cavities and trimmed Han’s nails and hair with a thought.  “After all, he is my brother,” he said, and smiled when he heard Greta’s protest that he was her brother.  “All the same,” Nameless responded with a smile.

Hans woke up. “Quiet Hansel.”  Nameless said softly, and he ruffled Han’s hair in the way Greta sometimes did.

“Hey, you promised.”  Hans complained, as in that place between waking and sleeping he instinctively knew his sister, even if at the moment, it was a man and a life she lived more than fourteen hundred years earlier.  When Hans came more fully awake he realized his mistake.  “Hey!”  He sat straight up.

“Hush,” Nameless said, not wanting to wake Mama.  “To paraphrase the way my own Mama used to put it, you could say I’m your sister, even when I’m your brother.”

Hans shook his head, confused.  This was the second time he had been surprised by this man.  “Who are you?”  He asked quietly.

Nameless smiled. “Grandfather Odin once said I was his favorite grandson,” he answered.

Han’s eyes widened.  Nameless knew what the boy thought.

“Grandfather called me a light to heroes and such, and he placed the Valkyra sort of in my hands. I get invoked a lot on the battlefield, but truth be told, mine is a special calling.  It is the little spirits of the earth, the sprites, dwarfs, elves light and dark that have been placed in my hands, and Greta’s hands, too, though she does not yet know this truth.  It is part of the burden of the Kairos.”  He ended with a sigh and saw Hans begin to tremble at his own thoughts. “Do not be afraid,” Nameless insisted. “I am on your side.”

Hans suddenly remembered how sick he had been.  He got prompted to remember.  “You made me well.”  He understood and relaxed a little.  Nameless pointed to the blue bubble that hovered just above his shoulder.  “What are you going to do with it?”  Hans asked.  He started to reach out to touch it, but Nameless caught his hand.  Greta stayed poison free, but he checked Mama, just to be sure, and he took the remains of the stew and buried it ten feet beneath the garden where even the birds and small animals could not get to it. Then he spoke.

“I am going to send the poison back to the one who sent it here,” he said.  “But only enough to make her ill, not kill her.”

He got the distinct impression of Greta speaking in his mind.  “You should turn her into a frog.”

“Authority,” Nameless reminded her.  “Maybe it was not Han’s time to die, but maybe it is not Lady Brunhild’s time either. Besides, I hate clichés.”  He turned his head and blew softly.  The blue bubble pushed a little way from the bed and began to wobble.  It popped and vanished.

Nameless smiled at Hans and pushed him back down under the covers.  He began to sing.  His mother Frya was, among her many talents, a goddess of music.  Thus, he sang the lullaby she used to sing to him.  His favorite.  Hans smiled and did not resist.  He fell asleep before Nameless finished the song.  Then he could not resist one more ruffle on the hair of the sleeping boy before he traded places through time with his own Greta.

Greta leaned over her sleeping brother and kissed him sweetly on the forehead.  She thanked Nameless for remembering her nightshirt this time and not leaving her in his armor, though she supposed it counted as her armor now.  Once again, she had much to think about, but at the moment she felt too tired.  She crawled into her own bed and had the best sleep she ever had in her life, and when she woke up in the morning she felt warm and soft.

For the first time, she imagined what it would be like to have a man beside her, to love her and share her feelings.  She thought of Drakka, but she felt a coldness there which she could not break through. She tried not to think of the Roman, and while in the past, those thoughts might have shattered any good feelings and killed her mood, in this case she simply felt too snuggly to feel bad. She thanked her Nameless self for leaving behind a residue of love.

Hans had already run off in the morning.  Who knew what story he might be telling his friends, not that they would believe him. Mama puttered around the kitchen, and hummed.

“Good morning,” Mama said.  “And how is my Little Mother this morning?”

“Oh, Mama.” Greta smiled as they kissed. “What are you humming?”

Mama finished what she was doing.  “I heard the most beautiful song last night in my dream.  I am trying to remember how it went.  I can’t quite remember, but it was the loveliest song I ever heard.”

Greta smiled, and indeed, she could hardly stop smiling.  She picked up the jug for her trip to the central fountain and Mama followed her outside.  They saw some early morning riders coming up the road.

“Excuse me,” Mama said.  “I have some mushrooms to remove from my garden.”  She walked around the side of the house even as the riders turned off to approach the house.  Lady Brunhild, Vasen the priest, several of her escort, and a couple of the elders from town stopped at the gate; not what Greta wanted to see.  She frowned, but she doubted Lady Brunhild knew what she frowned about.  The Lady did look a little green.

“Good morning.” The priest spoke and the elders from town politely nodded in her direction, acknowledging Greta after a fashion.

“Yes, of course.” Greta’s smile came back and a real joy in her voice which simply would not go away.  The town elders heard it, perked right up, and returned Greta’s smile. Even the priest brightened a little. “And what brings you here so early on this lovely morning?” Greta asked.  “Is someone ill?  Have you come to seek counsel?”

“No, Little Mother,” one of the elders spoke.  “All are well enough.”  His eyes shifted to Lady Brunhild and back to Greta.  Lady Brunhild looked like she kept trying to keep her breakfast down, if she had eaten any breakfast, which Greta doubted.

“Did we eat some bad mushrooms?” Greta asked with great concern.  “They can make you ill for a time, but I am sure it will pass.”

Mama chose that moment to come back around the corner of the house.  “Oh, it’s you,” she said rather harshly.  “Your son and my husband have to work together, but that is as close as you and I have to come.  You are not welcome here.”

Lady Brunhild looked about ready to croak, but in a massive effort of will, reflected in her cruel face, she jerked on her reigns.  “It does not matter,” she said.  “This changes nothing.”  She trotted off, the priest and her escort on her heels.

Greta curtsied to the elders, turned down her eyes and humbled herself before them.  They virtually saluted, and in the wind of their salute, Greta caught a wisp of what had transpired.

Lady Brunhild woke them early claiming some sixth sense told her there was trouble at the house. She expected to find one or more of them dead, or at least all of them deathly ill.  Greta imagined Lady Brunhild already did not feel well at that point, but this was important.  She probably carried the antidote for the poison so she could “heal” whomever was still alive.  This would prove she had great power and deserved all of their respect and attention. It would greatly strengthen her position, especially if the Woman of the Ways lay among the dead.  But, of course, Greta thought, it would not occur to the woman to use the antidote on herself since she did not know what was wrong. It certainly spoiled Lady Brunhild’s party to find everyone up and full of joy on that lovely spring morning—and it was a lovely morning.  Greta imagined Lady Brunhild would be sick all day.

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Greta spent the morning with the babies in town and she felt pleased to see nothing of the witch or her entourage.  That afternoon, she walked with Yanda out to the farm of Jodel’s father.  Jodel’s older brothers and their wives were all out in a field, clearing a new acre of stones and stumps.  They came running to the house and poor Greta got forced to eat and drink more than she liked.  She vowed to watch herself after that lest she end up as fat as a prize hog.

A long time passed before Jodel, Yanda and Greta could be alone.

“So, when do you want to marry?”  Greta asked before they could speak.  They looked at each other and laughed.

“I told you she knew,” Jodel said.

“I know,” Yanda replied.  “But she is my best friend.  It is hard to think of her that way.”

R5 Greta: Betrayal, part 1 of 3

A month went by, and Papa stayed away for most of that time.  They were surveying the river lands for distribution.  Greta kept busy doing what she trained to do.  She put Yani on a strict diet of greens when she determined the baby was a bit anemic, and another baby got born during that time. There were spring animals to be born as well, and a small spring festival that went with the birthing days. Greta told the stories that reminded the people of their heritage and culture, and made their hard-working, difficult lives a little easier.  Naturally, not all of the newborn animals survived.  Greta clearly said there would be times when a mother or child or both might not survive.  It was the way of all things.  Life and death did not cease.  They were like the seasons and would go on until the end of the world.  Oddly, she found some comfort in that thought.  It helped her grieve for Mother Hulda.

At the end of the month, Lady Brunhild, mother of the new War Chief Kunther, came to town. She came accompanied by an entourage of men and women, the chief of which was Vasen, the priest of Deyus’ Temple on the Mount of Kogaionon in Ravenshold.  Boarshag had its’ shrines and priests of a sort, but nothing compared to the great stone and marble Temple on the Mount.  That massive temple even impressed the Romans.  Greta felt certain it was nothing her people constructed. She imagined it already got old by the time the people migrated down from the North and up from the Tessalian plains and Macedonia to merge into the Dacian people.

Greta carried water from the central fountain as the traveling party rode up in a loud and leisurely manner, causing a scene.  Greta tried to get to the side of the road, but to no avail.  The Lady stopped, and so everyone else stopped.

“Girl.”  The Lady spoke to Greta.  “Take me to the house of Lady Olga, wife of Lord Vobalus the high chief.”  She gave a command to an underling hardly worth her contempt.

“May I ask your business?” Greta shot right back, without flinching.

For a second, it looked as if the lady might bite Greta’s head off, but she relented.  “I am Lady Brunhild of Sarmizegetusa,” she said and gave the ancient name for Ravenshold, the capital of Dacia.  “My son is Lord Kunther the high chief who shares that honor with Lady Olga’s husband.  I would pay my respects to the lady.”

“We have come on behalf of the Woman of the Ways.”  The priest interjected.  Lady Brunhild gave the priest a sharp look and he cowered momentarily, but otherwise, the lady did not lose her composure.

“You have found the Woman of the Ways.”  Greta said to the priest and ignored the lady.  Greta stood, poorly dressed, having just slopped the hogs before she fetched water, but Mother Hulda had always said one’s dress proved far less important than one’s bearing, and Greta bore herself well.

Lady Brunhild’s eyes shot straight to her, and Greta stared right back, and again she did not flinch.  Lady Brunhild appeared to be trying to get inside Greta’s mind, but Greta stayed busy making her own assessment.  Mother Hulda had taught her that the eyes were the mirror to the soul.  Greta saw the hate, treachery, a boundless, power-hungry, controlling ambition, and something very wrong inside the woman, which Greta could not quite name.

The lady laughed. “Child,” she spoke after she caught her breath.  “You flatter yourself.”  Some may have thought the woman laughed to cover her embarrassment at having made a bad first impression, but Greta heard the ridicule.

“I am going to Lady Olga’s home,” Greta said, as calmly as she could.  “You may follow if you wish.”  Greta started to walk, slowly.  Most of the party dismounted to lead their horses, but, as Greta surmised, Lady Brunhild was not about to give up her lofty perch.  It is difficult to manage a horse at a very slow pace, but Greta carried water and she saw no reason why Lady Brunhild’s ride should be a pleasant one.

When they arrived at the house, Greta set down her burden and turned in time to see Lady Brunhild turn up her nose at their plain and simple dwelling.  Mama worked in the garden and Greta went to fetch her.

“Mama,” she whispered.  “Kunther’s mother, Lady Brunhild, and the Priest from the Temple Mount are here.” Mama looked up, not quite comprehending at first, while Greta helped her to her feet.  “Lady Brunhild is the war chief’s mother,” she whispered more quietly in her mother’s ear.  “Watch out for her.  She is a stuck-up, overbearing, sly, two-faced bitch.”

“Greta!” Mama sounded shocked by her mouth.

“Did you hear what I said?” Greta asked.  She had chosen her words to be sure her mother heard.

“Yes,” Mama responded, kindly.  “We do not speak such words, and I am not a child who needs instruction.”

Greta hugged her. She knew her Mama would not be snookered.  “Allow me to introduce you,” Greta said, as soon as they came to where the others were waiting.  “Lady Brunhild, widow of Kroyden and mother of Kunther, the new war chief, and Vasen, high priest of the temple on the Mount Germisara.  She pointed to Mama but kept an eye on the priest and Lady Brunhild as she spoke.  “And this is Lady Olga, my mother.”

The priest got it and gulped, and his eyes widened.  Lady Brunhild, who now should have been doubly embarrassed, did not bat an eye, and Greta realized that Lady Brunhild would have treated her with the same contempt for an underling if she had known her to be both the Woman of the Ways and daughter of the high chief from the very beginning.

“Please excuse my appearance,” Mama started right in.  “And I am afraid the house is a mess.  You know, when the men go away it just is not the same.  But, of course you know.”  She sought the woman’s sympathy and tried to find some ground on which to commiserate.  “I was just gardening,” she went on uninterrupted.  “Would you care to see?  It would be most kind of you if you did.”  Mama took Lady Brunhild’s arm and guided her toward the side of the house. Greta grabbed the priest before he could tag along.

“You have come because of Mother Hulda?” she asked, but it was not a question.

“Outwardly yes, I mean, yes.”  He showed much more grace to Greta than before and perhaps even a little respect.

“And what have you heard?” she wondered.

“That the gods are angry with us.  That they sent a demon from the haunted wood to take our dear Mother away.”

“Yet she gave me the full blessing of the gods before she died so that I could follow-after her,” Greta mused, out loud.

“I know, Little Mother.  Everyone has heard this.  But Lady Brunhild says she will have no Woman of the Ways among her people.  She says it is only her ways that we must follow.”

Greta understood that there was an ego.  Forget a thousand years of collective memory and tried and true understandings, it is her way or the highway.

“Priest!” Lady Brunhild called.  She must have noticed he was missing.

“Right here.” The priest spoke up, but he whispered before he turned his back.  “Beware, she has powers to be reckoned with.”  He ran.  “I am right here.”

Greta wandered off the road to a place where she could sit but neither be seen nor heard. She spent a long time puzzling through what had been presented to her.  At last, when she felt it safe, she went home.  The coast looked clear.  Mama had started cooking.

“Sit down, dear.” Mama said and touched her arm. Immediately, Greta went stiff and had to sit down.  She saw Lady Brunhild clear as day speaking to the priest.

“She will grieve,” the woman said.  “But she will give no trouble, no trouble at all.”  Greta had to shake herself free of the vision.

“Eat, child,” her Mama said.  “You must stop daydreaming.  You will be married soon enough and your husband will want a responsible wife, not a dreamer.”

“Dreaming?” Greta asked.  Mama knew the signs of her visions.

“Sitting idly,” Mama said.  “Looking like you are thinking deep thoughts.  A child like you should not have to be troubled with deep thoughts.”

Greta’s mind became crystal clear, and she saw the glaze over her mother’s eyes.  She stood and slapped her mother, hard.  “Mama, come back to me,” she commanded.  Her mother looked surprised, then shocked, and finally looked terribly confused.  Greta knew this had to be a powerful enchantment.  Ordinary means would not work.  She steadied herself and remembered her lessons.

Capturing her mother’s eyes, Greta cleared her mind and heart of any imbalance.  Very quickly images of her and her mother together came floating up to the surface.  Shared memories bubbled-up, and as they surfaced, they passed through Greta to her mother, triggering Mama’s deep self to come back to the surface.

She came, as Greta became more and more drained.  “Greta?”  Mama came back, slowly, and asked, as if recognizing her daughter for the first time. Then she shouted, “Greta!” and caught her daughter before Greta collapsed to the floor.  She set Greta gently in a chair.  “Are you all right?” she asked.  “What am I doing?”

“It’s all right, Mama.”  Greta regained herself quickly.  She could see the magic of Brunhild, broken.  “Who am I?” she asked to be sure.

“Greta, of course. Do you feel sick?”

“No, Mama.” Greta asked again.  “Who am I?”

Mama paused. “My daughter.  Daughter of the high chief.”

“Yes.” she said. “But who am I?”

Mama did not pause this time as she understood.  “You are the Woman of the Ways for all of the people.”  She spoke with a touch of both humility and pride. She smiled at the thought, and Greta felt satisfied the bewitching had been completely broken.  At the same time, Greta felt exhausted and she doubted it cost Lady Brunhild as much.  Powers to be reckoned with, Greta thought.  No wonder the Priest seemed cowed.

Hans chose that minute to burst through the door.  “What’s cooking?  Smells great. I’m starved.”  He stopped talking, suddenly aware that Mama and Greta stared at him with their mouths part way open.  “Oh, women talk,” Hans guessed.  He helped himself to the stew he found on the table, and sat, to stare back at them.  “Go ahead, I’ve heard it all.”

Greta shook her head.  “I’m tired,” she said.  “I’m going to lie down.”  And she did. Mama stayed up long enough to put Hans to bed, but she had much to think about and only chewed on a crust of bread and had a cup of water.  She had lost her appetite.

R5 Greta: Betrothed, part 3 of 3

The men left for the south and the Old River in the afternoon; still too early for some of the celebrants.  Papa went with them, of course, but Hans did not despite his little tantrum.  Greta heard nothing from Darius.

Greta went to see Mother Hulda every day after that and always brought something in her cloth covered basket.  There still seemed to be a great deal that she wanted Greta to learn, and it seemed like she started cramming as much as possible into the shortest time.  Greta went home exhausted every night, but she went back in the morning with her goodies and a ready heart.

By the end of the week the sky turned overcast and rainy.  Mama insisted that she wear her red cloak, and Mama pulled the hood up and tied it tight against the weather, like she did when Greta was a child.  Greta did not complain.  This was her Mama.

“Tell the good Mother I will be up to visit in a week or so when your Papa returns,” Mama said. Greta knew that she wanted to talk to Mother Hulda about the wedding, but she appreciated the fact that her mother did not say so.

“I’ll be home for supper,” Greta said, but as she left, a strange sense of foreboding came over her.  That feeling increased when she got out of sight of the house.  The feeling came on strong enough to make her stop and look around.  She imagined nothing at home, and nothing to do with Papa, but it felt like something behind her, or up ahead, but behind in a way, like in the past.  She started to walk again and tried to explore the feeling of dread.

She heard a roar behind, a growl and a scream, and she screamed.  She spun around.  She wanted to run but her legs gave out.  She screamed again, but then she saw Hans rolling on the ground, laughing.

“Hans!”  She yelled, not a happy person.  She decided some demon must have set that up.  She already felt spooked, and Hans nearly gave her a heart attack.  She got so mad, she stomped her foot, made a fist, and let the steam out through gritted teeth.

“But you were so funny,” Hans said.

“Not funny!” she yelled.

“You going to Mother Hulda’s?  Can I come?” He did not really ask.  He would tag along regardless of what she said. Then she thought that he had seemed very bored in the last few days.

“Where are your friends?” she asked, having caught her breath at last.

“Doing stuff, I guess,” he said, with a shrug.  Greta imagined it had something to do with his new position, as son of the high chief.  Either he said something or did something, or they did, or they were no longer sure about him.  Greta felt certain that like the rain, it would blow over in time, but for the present, she returned his shrug.

“Let’s go.” She still felt spooked, and thought his company might help, even if he was a little creep.

They had not gone very far up the road, though, when Hans started off across country. “Come on,” he hollered.  “Let’s take the shortcut.”

“No,” Greta hollered back.  “I’m not tearing this dress on briars and bushes.”  How many dresses did he think she had?

“I’m going,” he said, and left, so it turned out she walked most of the way alone, after all.

Hans waited for her where the road turned.  After the obligatory, “What kept you?” they crossed the last, short meadow to Mother Hulda’s house.  All the while, Greta shook her head.

“Something’s spooky,” Hans said.  Even he felt it.  When they saw the house, the feeling intensified.  By the time they reached the porch, Greta could hardly keep from turning and running away.  She stopped at the door and told Hans to get behind her.  He did not argue.

She opened the door and screamed, and this time she knew what she was screaming about. There were bits and pieces of Mother Hulda thrown all over the room.  Mother Hulda’s head rested on a corner of the bed facing the door.  One eye was missing, but she stared at them with the other.

Greta could neither move nor stop screaming.  Hans pushed passed to see and promptly threw up behind the door.  That probably saved his life.  A noise came from the back.  A man hurriedly shuffled out of the dark, his eyes wide with madness.  He stopped, naked and filthy, and looked as if he had been burned everywhere.  Sores and open wounds covered his body where there had once been blisters.  His face looked like it had melted.

Greta still screamed, but her legs felt like lead.  She could not abandon Hans.  She could not move.  She cried out for help, and someone answered from deep in time.  The nameless god pushed his way through the centuries to stand where Greta no longer stood.  He came cloaked in his armor and weapons, but he did not touch the blades.

The madman clearly sensed the change and the aura of incomprehensible power.  He sniffed and howled after a fashion, dove through the window, and headed toward the forest, moving at a speed which seemed remarkable for a man who appeared to be half dead.  Nameless knew the wolf was something he would have to deal with, later. He learned long ago not to react out of upset or anger, and for the present, he had Hans to take care of, and Mother Hulda.

Nameless took Hans outside and cleaned him up.  Poor Hans got too sick even to wonder who this man might be.  Nameless carefully laid a hand on Han’s head and deliberately blunted the memory, making the sight inside the house seem like something from long ago and far away.  Thus, it would remain until it became long ago and far away.  Then Nameless turned toward Mother Hulda’s house.  He felt concerned about any saliva or wolf’s blood that might have spilled there.

When the last of the Were People isolated themselves from the human race, they hoped it would solve the trouble they caused.  They did not know breeding with humans would pass on the gene.  They also did not know about the micro-virus they carried.  To them, it remained harmless.  The wolf, the bear, the owl and eagle were mainstays of those shape shifters.  But in humans, it became a terrible thing.  Even when the gene and micro-virus got together, it could remain dormant for generations, but once active, there was no known cure. Humans were not built to withstand shape shifting.  The human mind was not made to temporarily take on the mind of the wolf.  The madness that produced was an intelligent, but utterly inhuman viciousness and lust that could only be sated with blood and more blood.

Nameless felt worried about the blood and saliva because that was how the micro-virus got transmitted.  Someone might come who unknowingly carried the gene.  It felt too risky for half-measures.  He concluded a funeral pyre was all he could do.  He moved everything of value that he cleaned to the barn with only a thought.  Then he spread his arms and the house burst into flames.  He reached out with his heart and made sure a number of people in Boarshag looked up at that moment.  He knew there would not be much time, so he immediately knelt beside Hans.

“Wow!”  Hans said, coming around since his memory got blunted.  “Who are you? Where’s Greta?”

Nameless smiled. “My grandfather named me Valdir, but most people know me as Nameless.  I am simply a man of the earth.  You might call me the woodcutter.”  That seemed to fit with the gist of the story.  “Feeling better?”

“You’re not dressed like a woodcutter,” Hans said.

“Hush,” Nameless said.  “It might be best if you did not say anything about my being here.”  Nameless spit on his two fingers and held out his hand.

Hans looked at the fingers, looked long into Nameless’ eyes as if searching for something he could not quite touch, and then spit and agreed.  They made a deal.  Immediately, Hans got something in his eyes, and while he turned away, Nameless left and Greta came home.  She almost slid right into the armor, which would have adjusted instantly to fit her, but at the last minute Nameless remembered, so she appeared in her dress, hooded exactly as she had been, in her red cloak.

“Where did he go?” Hans squinted up at his sister who now stood exactly where the nameless man had stood only a moment ago.

“The woodcutter went home,” Greta said, and she turned toward the house, which rapidly turned to ashes, and she began to cry.  Perhaps Hans’ vision had been blunted, but Greta’s had not.  The horror of what she saw washed over her, and she fell to the ground in revulsion and tears.

People came.

Hans hardly had time to stand, much less to comfort his sister before they found themselves surrounded by Rolfus, Sanger and Drakka.

“I saw the flames and smoke.”  Drakka spoke. “I was so worried about you.”  He got on his knees and held her up so she could cry in his shoulder.

“Oh, Drakka,” she said, and she wished he would hold her like that, always.  That thought barely flitted across her mind before the vision of Mother Hulda made rivers of tears.

Most of the women and not a few men that came, wept with Greta.  Jodel and Yanda brought Koren from his field, and he wept with Greta, and no doubt he would have wept for her if he could.  Mama came, and she kept trying to comfort Greta through her own tears.

Eventually, they got the story, mostly out of Hans.

“It was a man, I think,” he said.  “Mostly a man, I think.”

“What do you mean you think it was a man?”  Drakka’s words were loud, but it came out because of anger to think that anyone would murder the Woman of the Ways.

“A funeral Pyre,” Greta spoke in answer to the question she got asked.  It seemed the best thing.  Half-chewed bits of flesh and bone all over the house.  No one should have to see what she saw.

“What?” Sanger also sounded angry, and the others stood right there with him, but Drakka had Hans by the collar and it looked like he might hit the boy if he did not get a better answer.

“Was it a man or not?”  Drakka vented his rage.

Poor Hans looked frightened and confused.  “I don’t know.  I’m not sure.”  He shook his head.

“Stop!” Greta yelled and got more attention than she intended, even as it stopped the back of Drakka’s hand.  “It was a man who is a wolf,” Greta said. “It was the wolf who did this.”

“That’s it,” Hans said, hopefully.  “It was a wolf man.”  He need not have worried.  Drakka dropped him to the ground to focus on Greta.

“Don’t talk nonsense.”  Drakka said. “Was it a man or a wolf.”

“It was the wolf.” Greta answered.  “The werewolf.”  The crowd hushed.  Though only something from legends and nightmares, everyone knew what a werewolf was. Drakka took a half-step back, and people made signs in the air, mumbled prayers, and did little rituals to ward off the evil and gain the protection of the gods.  Greta pulled her red cloak and hood tight against the chill while thinking of her basket of goodies which by then had to be ashes.  She whispered one more thought before she stood to return home for a new round of tears.  “It was the big, bad wolf.”  Mama heard, and helped her walk without a word of her own.  Back home, Greta could grieve in the seclusion of her own room.

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MONDAY

R5 Greta: Betrayal.  While the men go south to survey the good land, the enemy rides right into town.  The witch.  Yes, that is spelled with a “w”.  Happy Reading.

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